(Therianthropy: the mythological ability of human beings to metamorphose into other animals by means of shapeshifting)
Kindy drop off done
she walks across the sand – waves lap –
bemused by her daughter’s request.
I need to check your back.
Tone imperious. Wary.
A baddy might have stolen my mummy and be zipped inside her skin.
What stories has she heard,
sitting quiet, legs crossed,
in the neat semicircle around the teacher’s chair?
She’s been so careful,
not yet tales of warning,
riddling fairies, magic mirrors, svelte-pelted beasts.
Not yet stories of shape shifting lustful gods,
the terrifying bestiary
of swans, serpents, stags, quail and gadfly,
none of the ocean dwelling tribes,
merpeople, nymphs and selkie.
Once, seems long ago now – her life before this child –
she’d lived too far from the sea.
Scanned the horizon daily
yearning for the promise of shimmer.
Wrecked shoes splashing through puddles
cradling tubs of greasy chips
just for their sea-side tang.
She’d dreamed of a seal skin,
waiting, at the foot of her bed.
she wades into soft ripples remembering
that old parched self,
her solace on endless winter nights
a horded trove of tales of therianthropy.
The selkies her favourite,
skin luminous in the moonlight,
dancing naked – until spent –
donned their seal skins
to dive back down
to their pearl encrusted realm.
But for one,
her pelt stolen, hidden by a man who desired her.
Husband she called him,
came to love him and their child,
and pined until,
close to death, she found the skin
and swam away.
The woman wades deeper,
The cache of tales has served her well.
No one has stolen her skin.
Her daughter will learn these lessons too,
it’s not too soon to know
to be wary of crystal eyed princelings
concealed traps, dancing shoes
and avaricious kings.
Pausing a moment, where palest cerulean laps
a sudden thought.
Just perhaps, the group on the shore,
struggling to close the zips of their neoprene suits,
tanks waiting beside them to be hauled onto their backs,
are trapped seafolk.
Pined away for so long they’ve forgotten this isn’t home.
After tugging on this skin they’ll glimpse something precious,
something – something –
She wades a little further out and floats.
The family stood on deck,
all they possessed stowed in the hold
(even their little green car.)
as all those they loved
waved – waved – waved –
the streamers snapped.
across the roaring, heaving ocean
under the belly of their country
to a distant city
on harsh coast at desert’s edge.
(at anchor in the shipping lane)
passengers sticky in the stifling morning air
gathered on deck.
to enter the harbour.
the vast blue dome of sky above.
at as-far-as-the-eye could see
stretches of white sand
fringing the land.
The mother watched.
Knowing the settlers who’d arrived
just a century before her birth
(promised the Hesperides)
dubbed this a place of
sorrow and sore eyes.
No one knows what became of her tears.
phosphorescent shapes , paisley shaped –
swirl and skim the waves
on both the shore she left
and here on the glittering swell
of this place
her children call home.
the shore break fizzing round her bare legs
late on sultry nights,
eyes to the sky
yearning for flight.
a gentle woman
a brave woman
took refuge from the searing heat late in the cool of night
sewing for her husband, her little girls, her boy.
Crisp mounds of poplin gingham seersucker
–wafting, promising fresh, clean –
for sun frocks
and snug piles of vyella
for winter pyjamas.
Her machine whirred long after the cicadas slept,
unsure why her heart leaped
as she pinned paper patterns
on soft vyella
(tear-drop paisleys darting, dancing)
unaware she stitched in
her dreams of flight.
If two sisters
in pale blue pyjamas
(the paisley print whirling)
were to jump – jump – jump on the bed
until they could flap no more
Jenny Hetherington has been writing for as long as she can remember, although only occasionally decides to send something out in the hope it may be read by others who love words as much as she does. She has had short fiction and poetry published in Westerly, Indigo and Cuttlefish.